Plantar Fasciitis - What You Should Know
Plantar fasciitis (PLAN-tur fas-e-I-tis) is one of the most common causes of heel pain. It involves inflammation of a thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes (plantar fascia).
Plantar fasciitis commonly causes stabbing pain that usually occurs with your first steps in the morning. As you get up and move more, the pain normally decreases, but it might return after long periods of standing or after rising from sitting.
Plantar fasciitis is more common in runners. In addition, people who are overweight and those who wear shoes with inadequate support have an increased risk of plantar fasciitis.
Plantar fasciitis typically causes a stabbing pain in the bottom of your foot near the heel. The pain is usually the worst with the first few steps after awakening, although it can also be triggered by long periods of standing or rising from sitting. The pain is usually worse after exercise, not during it.
Under normal circumstances, your plantar fascia acts like a shock-absorbing bowstring, supporting the arch in your foot. If tension and stress on that bowstring become too great, small tears can arise in the fascia. Repetitive stretching and tearing can cause the fascia to become irritated or inflamed, though in many cases of plantar fasciitis, the cause isn't clear.
Though plantar fasciitis can arise without an obvious cause, factors that can increase your risk of developing plantar fasciitis include:
- Age. Plantar fasciitis is most common between the ages of 40 and 60.
- Certain types of exercise. Activities that place a lot of stress on your heel and attached tissue — such as long-distance running, ballistic jumping activities, ballet dancing and aerobic dance — can contribute to an earlier onset of plantar fasciitis.
- Foot mechanics. Being flat-footed, having a high arch or even having an abnormal pattern of walking can affect the way weight is distributed when you're standing and put added stress on the plantar fascia.
- Obesity. Excess pounds put extra stress on your plantar fascia.
- Occupations that keep you on your feet. Factory workers, teachers and others who spend most of their work hours walking or standing on hard surfaces can damage their plantar fascia.
Ignoring plantar fasciitis may result in chronic heel pain that hinders your regular activities. Changing the way you walk to minimize plantar fasciitis pain might lead to foot, knee, hip or back problems.
The diagnosis is made based on the medical history and physical examination. During the exam, your doctor will check for areas of tenderness in your foot. Where your pain is situated can help determine its cause.
Usually no tests are necessary. Your doctor might suggest an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to make sure your pain isn't being caused by another problem, such as a stress fracture or a pinched nerve.
Sometimes an X-ray shows a spur of bone projecting forward from the heel bone. In the past, these bone spurs were often blamed for heel pain and removed surgically. But many people who have bone spurs on their heels have no heel pain.
Most people who have plantar fasciitis recover with conservative treatments, including resting, icing the painful area and stretching, in several months.
Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) can ease the pain and inflammation associated with plantar fasciitis.
Stretching and strengthening exercises or use of specialized devices may provide symptom relief. These include:
- Physical therapy. A physical therapist can instruct you in a series of exercises to stretch the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon and to strengthen lower leg muscles, which stabilize your ankle and heel. A therapist might also teach you to apply athletic taping to support the bottom of your foot.
- Night splints. Your physical therapist or doctor might recommend that you wear a splint that stretches your calf and the arch of your foot while you sleep. This holds the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon in a lengthened position overnight and facilitates stretching.
- Orthotics. Your doctor might prescribe off-the-shelf or custom-fitted arch supports (orthotics) to help distribute pressure to your feet more evenly.
- Buchbinder R. Plantar fasciitis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Sept. 27, 2016.
- Plantar fasciitis. American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. http://www.aofas.org/footcaremd/conditions/ailments-of-the-heel/pages/plantar-fasciitis.aspx. Accessed Sept. 27, 2016.
- Plantar fasciitis and bone spurs. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00149. Accessed Oct. 14, 2013.
- AskMayoExpert. Plantar fasciitis. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2016.